Analysis: Tennis pros’ US return amid pandemic no true model

The four players certainly looked thrilled to be playing tennis with some cash prize (amount not revealed) at stake in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic – even if the court was near the backyard pool at someone's mansion and there were zero ATP rating points on the line, zero changing rooms, zero spectators, zero ball children and almost no employees.

Those hungry for live sports on television had the chance to see a quartet of men classified from 29th to 57th year – even if the format was enigmatic, with games without ads and games from first to fourth.


And those responsible for organizing future tennis matches were able to observe the social distance and other precautions adopted as the “first sport competition on American soil among classified players” since professional tennis was suspended – even if two participants drove to the place. and the match website together, the house they share.

Still, there was an important gap in the TV matches involving Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, Hubert Hurcacz and Miomir Kecmanovic on Fridays and Saturdays in West Palm Beach, Florida, where a three-day event was reduced to two because of the rain in Sunday's forecast: it did not offer a real model for the look of real tennis when ATP and WTA tours return from a hiatus of months that will last at least until mid-July due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

"This is so different from a tournament" Paulo said in a telephone interview. "We have four people here and we are taking everything very cautiously and going to the extreme. I don't know how they would do that with more than four people."


Although no one needs to test for COVID-19, Paulo he said he felt safe, thanks to measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus – measures similar to those experienced elsewhere, as tennis moves backwards.

Belarus and Germany have already received unsanctioned matches; others are planned in Serbia and France. Matches in West Palm Beach involving four qualified women are scheduled for May 22 and 24. Rafael Nadal is among those who wonder if tours will resume in 2020.


"We are certainly paying attention to all these types of exhibitions and other events that are starting to spread around the world. You can learn from that," said US Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier. "You want to see which ones Proper safety precautions are being taken. How the competition is being presented. Anything in that regard – in tennis or any other sport – can be a learning experience for us when it comes to moving forward with the US Open Series or the US Open . ”

In West Palm Beach, where they played on a hard blue court surrounded by a wire fence, everyone at the place should have their temperature checked. The racket taps replaced the post-game handshakes. The balls were marked with red and black circles so that players could only touch the ones they served. The cleaning crews cleaned the seats and the hammock and rubbed the walls behind the baselines. Each player had access to his own tent when he was not playing. Disinfectant dispensers for hands were attached to the side seats; Paulo said he used some after his round robin matches on Friday. The only officers were a chair umpire and a line judge calling the service line outside the fence, wearing gloves and a mask.

From a distance, the sparse setting looked like something from the sport's minor leagues or a training session.

The Tennis Channel broadcast sometimes seemed like an infomercial for the unofficial rating system that sponsored the matches.

And there was no scoreboard, so Paulo He said he asked the chairman on Friday to remind him where things were.

What mattered to those involved, Paulo said, it was this: "It felt real in the way I was playing and in the way the players I played against".

"But," he added, "it's hard to still look" real "when you look around and there's no one watching, and it's just in a private court in a house."


Howard Fendrich covers tennis for the Associated Press. Send him an email at [email protected] or contact him via Twitter at


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